I grew up in the shadow of the San Francisco Bay, and my depression rolled in gradually, like the fog that city is so famous for. I’ve been through some difficult times—alcohol rehabilitation, two stints in a mental hospital, marital problems and my grandmother’s struggle with breast cancer. But by far the most harrowing battle I’ve ever fought was against depression.
Beginning in high school and lasting nearly a decade, I was medicated, analyzed and institutionalized for a disease that entangled my soul and very will to live. Now medication and depression-free, I feel like I’ve walked through hell and lived to tell about it.
The average person cannot imagine the horrors of living with severe depression. For most, life’s challenges—though regular—are easily overcome. For those battling depression, every encounter or obstacle seems overwhelming. Depression drains a person’s energy and willpower, leaving them a shell of their potential self.
“Depression robs the system of its juice,” says Dr. George Friedman, a psychologist in Wailuku. “Without energy, a person’s vitality, optimism and appetite are all gone.”
Life’s necessities, such as eating properly, maintaining hygiene and taking care of responsibilities, often go neglected, as mere survival becomes a struggle. Sometimes even survival is jeopardized. Often, an overwhelming sense of despair, permanence and loneliness can manifest into suicidal thoughts or actions.
Friedman sees depression as a vicious cycle that must be confronted aggressively.
“You have to do something,” he says. “You have to will yourself to action. It can be as simple as making a list of three things to do today, even if it’s just brushing your teeth or eating lunch. Make an effort to reverse the cycle. Therapy can assist in organizing thoughts and providing contact with another human being.”
I would agree. Spending entire days in bed—rising only to use the bathroom or eat—may have numbed my pain, but it never provided a solution. Not until I took action did the fog begin to lift. Although many people feel too overwhelmed to battle their depression, fighting like a savage really is the only solution.
The problem, of course, is that taking any kind of action when depressed can seem nearly impossible. Fortunately, just about any action taken can be a step in the right direction. For me, it was a combination of therapy, discipline, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and having the faith that things would get better that initiated my gradual turnaround. I just never gave up trying different things.
One of the advantages I never had was the abundance of holistic healers available here on Maui. Courtney Jonson, a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Lei Spa in Lahaina, believes that disharmony in the body can have as much to do with depression as anything that’s happening in the brain.
Jonson believes the five branches of Chinese wellness—acupuncture, exercise, nutrition, massage, and herbal medicine—can be instrumental in revitalizing overall health.
“Acupuncture can help disharmony in vital organs,” she says, “and massage can release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which can be powerful tools against depression.”
Helen Cummings, of Back to Center Massage and an advisor on the Board of Massage Therapy, agrees. “Much of foggy thinking comes from a lack of oxygen to the brain,” she says. “Getting aligned, having good bodywork, can oxygenate the body and clear the mind.”
If the bad news is that taking action while depressed is difficult, the good news is that there are a myriad options available on Maui to battle depression. In addition to the treatments mentioned above, other possibilities include outdoor activities and ocean sports, yoga and weightlifting.
A proper diet, avoidance of depressants such as alcohol and drugs, and a willingness to seek help are also essential. Most importantly, a person must want to feel better and take massive and painstaking action to meet that goal.
It isn’t easy. Fighting depression is about as fun as fighting the devil.
But victory is possible. Having fought and beat the devil, I now know that anything can be overcome. With the fog of my depression subsided, seeing this beautiful world unimpeded, I am truly alive and grateful for all my struggles—past and present, large and small. MTW